Video services

SK Broadband Goes for IPTV

SK Broadband (formerly Hanaro Telecom) of South Korea is the latest MSO to install a cable modem termination system (CMTS) "bypass" architecture to deliver IPTV services to its cable customers.

In this case, SK Broadband has deployed Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT)'s "Direc-2-Edge" (D2E) system, which comprises the vendor's NSG 9000 "universal" edge QAMs (eQAMs) and control software. (See SK Broadband Taps Harmonic for IPTV .)

Rather than piping broadcast IPTV services directly through its "core" CMTS -- Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s flagship uBR10012, in this case -- SK Broadband is delivering those services through the Harmonic eQAMs, which are the downstream component of a new "modular" CMTS architecture that feeds the operator's Docsis 3.0 platform, which is being used today to deliver a high-end tier that offers downstream burst of up to 100 Mbit/s. SK Broadband started its wideband deployment about two years ago. (See Hanaro Takes Harmonic to Edge and Hanaro Picks Cisco.)

Harmonic and others in the CMTS bypass camp argue that delivering IP video through the edge QAMs is a much less expensive proposition than piping those services through the core CMTS. Suppliers such as Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) have countered that CMTS equipment economics are improving rapidly and that core CMTSs are also better equipped than edge QAMs to handle big bursts of traffic. (See Bypassing the IPTV Hype and Cable IPTV Debate Brews .)

Unifying IPTV
SK Broadband, an operator that serves about 6 million subs, has initially deployed Harmonic's D2E IPTV system in its Seoul-based hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) network, but is in the process of installing it in additional provinces. Less than half of SK Broadband's networks are based on HFC, according to Gil Katz, Harmonic's senior director of cable solutions. The rest of the operator's network is based on DSL or fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) access technology.

Because SK Broadband uses a variety of network topologies, one aim of the CMTS IPTV bypass approach is to allow the operator to unify its IPTV approach, allowing it to use the same set-tops and underlying middleware, billing system, and conditional access system, regardless of the type of access network that's delivering services into a given home. (See Koreans Tune In to IPTV.)

"It's a pure IPTV service," Katz explains. "There's no additional work in the home. It makes sense to converge [the networks] and to try to provide exactly the same service regardless of the network infrastructure."

And the idea isn't entirely new -- A+ Group of Denmark is using a CMTS bypass system from GoBackTV Inc. to ensure that its HFC-delivered IPTV service looks and smells roughly the same as it does on its telco network. (See GoBackTV Lets Cable Cos. 'Drop In' IPTV .)

SK Broadband also isn't the only operator in South Korea to enlist a CMTS bypass architecture for IPTV. Earlier this year, LGDacom Corp. became the first operator to deploy BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND)'s "vIP PASS" platform. (See Koreans Take Cable IPTV for a Spin and BigBand Lays Cable IPTV Groundwork.)

Although the CMTS bypass idea is gaining some ground in parts of Europe and Asia, it's not the only option on the table. Other MSOs, including the major cablecos in the U.S., are also weighing whether to deliver IPTV services directly through the CMTS or by employing a new class of Docsis 3.0-powered gateways that can translate and feed video to IP-capable set-tops and other IP devices hanging off the home network. (See How Will Cable Deliver IPTV?)

Katz says Harmonic is seeing interest for the CMTS bypass approach among operators in Asia, Europe, North America, and Latin America -- but he acknowledges that Tier 1 MSOs in the U.S. aren't in as much of a hurry:

"They will be very careful about whether they choose bypass or [IPTV via the CMTS]," he says, noting that some may be willing to test the waters with some trials. "I don't see major commercial deployments when it comes to the U.S. Tier 1s. But I do see hundreds of Tier 2 and Tier 3 [MSOs] getting on board as we speak," he says of the present, global prospects for IPTV CMTS bypass architectures.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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